Chapter 3 – Ego and Other Addictions
(As always – very much a draft so thank you for reading at this early stage. I’m so grateful x x)
Have you ever had a secret you were terrified people would uncover? I have. I’ve had a few.
One of my most shameful secrets emerged shortly after that trio of events when I decided I wanted to downsize my marketing agency, start again and build a completely new and totally unrelated business. And life for that matter! You see we had grown quickly as a company and, as you do when you’re young, lost in your own hype and foolhardy with money, I borrowed more than I should have to grow quicker than was wise. I wanted it all and was far too impatient to work for it! So I borrowed it, all.
Digitia had grown rapidly whilst this excited me, it also fooled me. If I had made it to six figures in just over three years, from nothing (and twice – I had two companies remember) then maybe I could make it to seven figures in another two years, even sooner perhaps? I could not wait to post that news story on Linked In. Millionaire, aged thirty. That was literally one of my biggest goals – and consequently my biggest trap.
Still high on the idea, I called the bank and arranged an overdraft of twenty thousand pounds. Then I called the Funding Circle and negotiated a thirty-thousand-pound loan with them. These loans combined with finance options on the new Macs, a couple of personal credit card debts and previous director’s loans (money I had put in to grow the company initially), brought my borrowing to well over seventy thousand pounds. It was fine though, we were making well over twenty to thirty thousand pounds per month and I was comfortably paying the loans in accordance with the loan conditions.
The growth continued. But, as with all good stories, things didn’t quite work out as planned.
Pay rises. New offices in Manchester. Bigger offices in Durham. New recruits. Consultancy fees to find the new recruits. I have to say, fifty thousand pounds is not nearly as much as you think it is when you spend it like I did.
Before long, the money was gone but…the growth plan was in motion. As I said to my team: “We’ve jumped off the edge of the cliff now and we’ve got to work hard to make it to the other side.”.
“We’ll make it, there is no alternative”, I added, channelling the story of the leader who ‘burned the boats’ and thereby giving his army no choice of retreat but every impetus to fight like their lives depended on it. I thought I was being inspirational, bold even. I wasn’t, as I would find out very soon.
Start with ‘Why’
But let us rewind a second. It’s February 2015, six months before I was to make the momentous decision to give it all up, submit to a higher calling and start again. Alice (my operations manager at the time) and I were on a recce to Manchester, sussing out the city as a potential location for expanding the business. Manchester was always on the news as being the digital hub of the North, the best place to live in England. The best? I was more than curious.
Midway through the trip, we were walking through the financial district when a young man caught my eye. He was standing, shivering, in a suit holding a sign with his degree on it and urging people who walked past him to take his CV. I loved the boldness of it all. I loved the lengths he was willing to go to in order to secure work. I approached this young man and offered to buy him a drink in the local restaurant to find out more about him. It ended up being a mini-interview. I asked him to meet me at a coffee shop the next day. He was very impressive; confident, informed and driven but not in that ‘ambitious’ kind of way. He was driven by a core purpose, a calling.
I offered him a job and he started a few weeks later, working from home some days and travelling to our office in Durham once a week.
Whilst discussing business strategy during a team meeting, he showed me a video that was to change my life in ways I couldn’t imagine. It was a video clip of Simon Sinek talking at a TED Conference. The talk was called “Start with Why”.
In the clip, Sinek draws three circles – with each circle sitting inside the previous one. He explains that most companies, when trying to market their business, start with the outer circle first: what they do. They then move to the next circle in: how they do it. He explains that companies who we really connect with – those big brands we obsess over – do things differently. They start from the inside out: they start with ‘why’ they do what they do.
I grasped the concept immediately. ‘I must start with why’, I thought to myself. It was to be months before I realised that we all have a purpose, a calling. Simon Sinek was just the beginning and thank goodness for him. He introduced me to the idea within the context of a framework I could understand and relate to: business. I am not sure I would have grasped the sentiment had I heard about it in the context of spirituality first
To this day I am very grateful to Joshua, the young man I took for coffee, for introducing that video to me and I know he’ll go on to do amazing things.
Back to the moment of decision then. I had jumped off the cliff bringing my team with me, I had clocked up seventy thousand pounds of loans and I was wondering what my ‘why’ could be. In fact, I was wondering a lot more than that…
Standing in Your Own Way
What the hell is it all for? Why am I here? What is the point? You know that an awakening is just around the corner when these questions start filling your head as you eat your coco pops.
So there I was, aged twenty-nine: the founder of not one but two six-figure businesses, responsible for eight people, servicing multi-million pound clients with the world at my feet. Why was I still so deeply unhappy? It felt like I was on the verge of everything and yet absolute oblivion in equal measure. It felt at that moment as though like my life could turn on just a single roll of the die.
By July 2015, things had come to a head and I felt like I was going crazy. It was like I was trying to take a French lesson in German, I did not have the right language to describe how I felt.
Not long after this crescendo of uncertainty, I was taken to the doctors for my depression and was prescribed running (yes, running). I reached for my audio of Les Brown and went on that run, the one where Les Brown asked: “How do you know you haven’t got three months left to live?”.
Suddenly, as if by magic, I received the clarity I had been searching for. I knew what I had to do: get out of the businesses, pay off the debt and launch DARETOGROW. I have to follow my passion.
But…there was a problem. Someone was standing in my way. Me.
I would not let myself do it. I was addicted. To my money. To my Managing Director status. To my businesses (and yes, I loved that that was plural). To my reputation. To my own self-importance. To the whole fucking drama of it. I was totally and utterly addicted. I lived, slept and breathed for business, for success, for money. The histamine and adrenaline pumping into my system were fabulous stimulants. I wanted more. I needed a bigger hit. Hence the loans. Hence the leap. Hence the new, separate office I got all to myself. I mean, come on!
I needed to get out of my own head. I needed to stop and as they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
Enter Eckhart Tolle.
Aged twenty-nine, Eckhart Tolle (who was to become an international bestselling author with his book ‘The Power of Now’) recognised he had lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety with long periods of suicidal depression. Then one night, he woke up early in the morning with the most profound feeling of dread. Everything felt alien to him; hostile and utterly meaningless. In the depths of that despair he asked himself: ‘what was the point of carrying on with this continuous struggle?’. He could feel a deep longing for annihilation, for non-existence.
“I cannot live with myself any longer”, he thought, over and over again.
And then it happened. The breakthrough.
On that lonely morning as the trains he lay awake and fearful in the dark whilst the trains passed quietly in the distance, he woke up. He became aware of his own awareness over the voice. “Am I one or two?”, he asked. “If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with”.
“Maybe”, he thought, “only one of them is real”.
And so began his journey, from the frantic and persistent ramblings of the ego to the higher power of the source. He described this as being the process of waking up: of breaking free from “inherited collected mind-patterns that have kept humans in bondage to suffering for eons”.
Yikes, what does that mean? Simply this: you are not who you think you are. You have been raised to believe you are your achievements and shortcomings, your past experiences and future expectations, your thoughts and your beliefs. You are not. You are the present moment. You are infinite. Anything is possible for you. Anything you can conceive and visualise with intention you can have, do and become. I will explain that later in the book so for now, let us just say that when you can give up the needs of the ego, tap into a higher power and truly believe in yourself (I mean truly – said in a deep, low tone with eyes squinting and head nodding – truuuly) then you can manifest a new reality and it can happen much more quickly than you think.
Easier said than done, right?
As Russell Brand rightly says in his book ‘Revolution’: “It is extremely difficult to put aside a lifetime of conditioning”. The rewards are far from immediate and giving up your self-constructed sense of self (your ego) goes against the grain of what your family, friends and colleagues respect.
As Brand jibes: “Escape your life into this PlayStation, mask the stench of your failure with this fragrance, run from your debts in these gleaming new shoes. Don’t be you. Don’t be you” before adding: “we have been told that freedom is the ability to pursue petty, trivial desires when true freedom is freedom from these petty, trivial desires.”.
Russell Brand’s book – Revolution – is a wonderful and eloquent account of our conditioning to the system. We all adhere so beautifully to the rules of this made-up construct despite the fact it is causing us all so much pain. I mean, how can it be that so many people are trapped in poverty and yet we cosy up in bed each night without giving their plight a second’s thought? How it is that so many animals are tested on to ensure make-up doesn’t sting our eyes? How can our conscious minds allow us to be so wasteful as if the world can sustain our need for more, more, more? Because that’s how we are taught to be: Capitalism first, boys and girls. “Yes, sir”.
So where do you begin on your journey out of ego and into purpose? The truth is, you’ve already begun. It’s because you’re waking up that you picked up this book, that you’ve been following that new blog or asking yourself: “is there more to life than this?”.
Yes, there is! But, I’ll be honest…the book will not give you the answer. The book is your guide, a process. You are the way and you already have the answers you need: I’m just going to show you how to access those answers and build a life around them.
You see, what I have learnt this year is that your purpose is the way, the enabler. Your ego is the trap, the barrier. As Ryan Holiday termed it in the title of his book: ‘Ego Is The Enemy’. In fact, so afraid is he of succumbing to the temptations of the ego he had that very phrase tattooed on his arm. On his other forearm he had ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ tattooed – incidentally the title of another (fabulous) book he wrote.
I was so very trapped in my ego, mostly because I did not even know it existed. I was doing what that voice in my head told me to do. I had no sense of higher calling or purpose. I was caught up in the current of life, ashamed of my failings and promised salvation ‘tomorrow’. To quote Brand once more: “isn’t there always some kind of condition to contentment?”.
Yes, there is. But it doesn’t have to be negative. In my marketing agency I used to talk a lot about anchors and sails. It doesn’t matter how much wind you put in your sails, if you don’t cut the anchors tying you down you’ll never get anywhere.
The condition to living your dream life and making a living from your passions, then, is two-fold: give up the old (cut the anchors) and take on the new (add more wind).
Let me give you an example.
One evening in early 2016 my partner, Alice, took me to a Gabby Bernstein talk in London. I was in a major depressive slump and couldn’t get through a day without crying. At the event, Gabby asked if anyone had any questions. Too embarrassed to ask, I sat quietly sobbing and I felt Gabby notice. Right at the end Gabby said: “One more, we have time for one more question” and she looked at me. I put up my hand and asked her: “Is depression real?”.
Tears were rolling down my cheeks and I didn’t care. In that moment, I wasn’t an MD, I wasn’t a leader, I wasn’t a motivational speaker, I wasn’t a coach, I wasn’t accountable to the world. I was Lisa and I needed help.
“Thank you”, Gabby replied. “I’m really glad you’ve asked that question because so many people suffer with it”. She said it with such sincerity.
More tears, more eagerness to know…”What can I do about it?”.
She gave me a very precious pieces of advice: “Introduce new conditions – the only way to overcome an existing condition is to introduce a new condition.”.
On the spot, Gabby gave me a free copy of her latest book and audio tape – 108 Tools for a More Spiritual Life. Alice and I started the CD the next night on the drive home from London and this new work gave me strength like you wouldn’t believe.
Gabby was right! You can’t just ‘give up’ old beliefs; you have to train them out. You have to replace the old with the new. I couldn’t just stop being depressed, for example, but I could cut some of the anchors tying me down and add more wind in my sails to propel me forward. For example, instead of drinking so much coffee, I drank more water. Instead of sleeping in, I forced myself on runs. Instead of letting negative stories play on loop, I drowned them out with talks from motivational speakers. It was hard but it worked. I no longer suffer with depression.
You see, to get out of ego and into purpose you can’t just flick the switch – it rarely happen that way. You need to identify what your ego is clinging on to. Is it money, reputation, fear, anger, that car, the house, your partner. I know it sounds crude but you only really have two options: cut them out or replace them.
For most of 2016 I was plain broke! I loved having money, of course but I swapped money for happiness. I also loved my reputation but it wasn’t enough – my work wasn’t fulfilling – so I swapped my reputation for integrity. I was scared, too, that I wouldn’t make it out but I swapped my fear for faith – I started praying (I was desperate and needed to know I was in good hands), I started affirmations, I started meditating, I started practicing gratitude.
I’m going to share the techniques in the coming chapters but for now just know that they work. I am a changed person because of these new rituals and as a result, my life has changed beyond recognition.
The Long Dark Night of the Soul
This is the journey we must all go on. It’s the spiritual revolution and us light workers are leading the way. Blindly at first, with faith next and then from a place of deep and meaningful purpose.
I used to think Leonardo Di Caprio was on a personal mission to gain brownie points when he started campaigning for the environment. I didn’t get it. He’s an actor, I thought. He can’t also care about the environment, can he? It’s a trick, a PR stunt. I’ve grown lately (a lot!) and realised it’s not a trick, rather the manifestation of his purpose. His acting career has provided a bigger stage for his message and granted him more freedom to do commit to his calling. I get it now. I’m sorry I doubted you Leo.
In fact, everyone who has ‘made it’ in a way you respect (and I mean truly respect at your core) has embarked on this journey through ego and into consciousness: they call it the long, dark night of the soul.
Tune in and you will hear references to it everywhere. Have you seen the film Avatar? Do you know the story of Romeo and Juliet? Have you listened to Adele’s lyrics? Take ‘Rolling in The Deep’, for example:
“There’s a fire starting in my heart,
Reaching a fever pitch
And it’s bringing me out the dark.
Throw your soul through every open door
Count your blessings to find what you look for
Turn my sorrow into treasured gold
You’ll pay me back in kind and reap just what you sow.”
She knows, doesn’t she?
I mean, do you ever have a moment when you’re listening to the radio and a song connects with you on a deep level? That’s because the writer ‘knows’. They have been on this journey and their words speak right to you, right to your soul. They faced their pain and they turned their sorrow into treasured goal. They got out of their story and stood on their story, as transformational speaker Lisa Nichols would say.
Time for a Change
Standing beside Lisa, Gabby, Leo, Tony and Les (metaphorically speaking of course) I knew it was time for my change – my awakening. And like I said, I turned to prayer.
It’s funny because I recently rewatched the film of Liz Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. This quote sums up how I felt beautifully…
One day, lying awake in her bed contemplating her life and her marriage, Liz had asked herself: “Hadn’t I wanted this? I’d actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life so why didn’t I see myself in any of it? The only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I just wanted to quietly slip out the back door… Instead I made a decision. To pray. You know, like to God. And it was such a foreign concept to me that I swear I almost began with: ‘I’m a big fan of your work’.”
Her prayer went something like this: “I’m in serious trouble. I don’t know what to do. I need an answer. Please tell me what to do. Oh God help me please. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
The voice Liz heard told her to go back to bed.
The voice I heard told me to write a blog and tell my truth. I called the blog: “Why Happiness Cost me £70,000” and I sent it to my clients.
I knew in my mind that the journey I was about to embark on would be impossibly difficult, yet I also knew that in my heart, it was the right thing to do.
It seems so silly now, so small, but what I did that day was the bravest thing I’d done to date: I told the truth. I opened my laptop and typed up the secret I’d been hiding. I was in debt: a failure according to the system. I was absolutely up to my eyeballs and beyond.
Like Elizabeth Gilbert I wanted to slip out the back door and start again, only I couldn’t. I had to face my life. I had to make some bold new decisions. I had to take charge of my life and begin the transformation that comes from facing your truth.
As Elizabeth said her book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’: “Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation”.